Social Indicators

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Definition of social indicators

Social indicators are defined as statistical measures that describe social trends and conditions impacting on human well-being.[1] Generally, social indicators perform one or more of three functions:

  • providing information for decision-making
  • monitoring and evaluating policies
  • and/or searching for a common good and deciding how to reach it.[2]

What is an indicator?

Indicators are “succinct measures that aim to describe as much about a system as possible in as few points as possible” and which “help us understand a system, compare it and improve it”[3]. Indicators can consist of one statistical variable, or of several variables combined together to form an index.

Examples of social indicators

Examples of social indicators cover the full range of issues that matter for individual, community and societal well-being. Common examples include:

  • Poverty rate
  • Inequality rate
  • Educational attainment
  • Life expectancy
  • Employment and unemployment rates
  • Obesity rate
  • Fertility rate
  • Health expenditure
  • Suicide rates
  • Youth neither in employment, education nor training (NEET rate)
  • Life satisfaction (objective and subjective)

Objective and subjective social indicators

Objective social indicators are statistics which represent social facts independent of personal evaluations and subjective social indicators measure of individual perceptions, self-reports and evaluations of social conditions. There is an emerging consensus amongst experts that social progress and human well-being should be measured by a combination of both objective and subjective indicators.[4]

Examples of subjective indicators include:

  • trust
  • confidence
  • life satisfaction
  • well-being
  • perceived security

Social Indicators Reports

Social Indicator Reports are publications or online-platforms which gather together a range of social indicators to monitor social progress. Many countries, communities and organisations produce regular reports of social indicators.

 Examples of Social Indicator Reports

Society at a Glance, OECD

How’s Life? Measuring Well-being, OECD

Measures of Australia’s Progress


[1] OECD. "Measuring Social Well-Being: A Progress Report on the Development of Social Indicators". 1976. Paris: OECD.

[2] Armstrong, A., Francis, R., Bourne, M. and Dussuyer, I. "Difficulties of Developing and Using Social Indicators to Evaluate Government Programs: A critical review". Paper presented at the 2002 Australasian Evaluation Society International Conference, Wollongong Australia, October/November 2002, retrieved October 20, 2009 from

[3] Pencheon, D. (2008), “The Good Indicators Guide: understanding how to use and choose indicators”, UK National Health Service Institute for Innovation and Improvement website,

[4] Stiglitz et al. (2009), “Report by the Commission on the Measurement of Economic Performance and Social Progress”,